"Resurrection," a melodrama about a woman who discovers she possesses supernatural healing powers, collapses for want of some effective laying-on of dramatic hands.

Screenwriter Lewis John Carlino has completed approximately half an intriguing movie. After arousing our curiosity about the mysterious gift that comes to the heroine, Edna McCauley -- played by Ellen Burstyn -- the writer proves unable to resolve it in a satisfactory way.

The interesting half of the picture depicts Edna's emergence as a healer. Seriously injured in an auto accident that kills her husband, Edna drops over the brink of death and then returns. A visionary sequence of her impressions while briefly transported to The Other Side was prepared by a trio of graphic specialists -- Tony Silver, Richard Greenberg and Robert Greenberg. This glimpse of eternity seems to be inspired by the testimony common to a number of people who have experienced clinical death and returned: a serenely pretty glide through a boundless tunnel lined with welcoming figures who trail pastel streamers as they pass by. The sensation as visualized seems more pleasant than stirring.

Edna accepts her father's invitation to recuperate at his Kansas farm. She becomes aware of the healing powers suddenly present in her hands and experiments on her own paralyzed legs, effecting a remarkable cure. She begins healing sessions and enjoys considerable success. When trouble occurs, it comes from left field. Sam Shepard, initially quite amusing as a lean, insinuating country Lothario who is romantically attracted to Edna, suddenly and arbitrarily becomes a homicidal religious nut whose behavior simply destroys the movie.

For quite a while Carlino and director Daniel Petrie seem to be resisting the temptation to sensationalize Edna's history. She is portrayed as a courageous, affectionate, unpretentious woman suddenly blessed with an ability that she attempts to use generously. She is not a faith healer: She can concentrate some kind of psychic energy that flows through her hands. During a sequence in which she is tested by a research team, sensors record dramatic changes in pulse rate and body temperature, for example, and her radiant hands bend a laser beam.

Edna resists regarding herself as a divine instrument. She's not particularly religious and appears to have no mercenary or vain motives. In real life she might be exemplary; but "Resurrection" is a work of popular fiction, and something dramatic has to happen to Edna as a result of her powers. So the filmmakers go on a climactic bender of sensationalism. They try to patch up the damage with a reassuring epilogue, but the picture remains critically diabled.

The fundamentally benign Edna does not give Burstyn the opportunity to show the range she demonstrated with hair-raising brilliance in her last outing, the Jules Dassin fiasco "A Dream of Passion." Perhaps Edna's character is really too decent and unassuming to release the flaky, provocative side of Burstyn's talent or to facilitate melodramatic plotting. If anything plausibly drastic is going to happen, it needs to be rooted in a character flaw that makes her vulnerable. Edna doesn't do anything that could really antagonize anyone.

Shepard seems the most fascinating performer in the film, no mean accomplishment in a supporting cast that also features Eva Le Gallienne (as Edna's elderly granny) and character actors as distinctive as Roberts Blossom and Richard Farnsworth. In "Days of Heaven" Shephard looked striking; but "Resurrection" gives him a chance to fill out the impressive profile. The droll rural stud who emerges in his early scenes is a happy surprise: a Robert De Niro type discovered in the last part of the country you'd expect to find him.